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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Debating Race Relations: A Forum on Ethnicity in America

    Dr. Pepi Leistyna, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston,gave a lecture on the concept of ‘Racenicity: The Whitewashing of Ethnicity’this past Friday as part of the Graduate School Symposium Lecture Series.

    The lecture introduced Stony Brook students to a different perspective on racerelations, centered on the idea of ‘whiteness’ as the dominating factorin tensions arising between cultures today in America.

    Leistyna’#146;s unique approach to multiculturalism and race relations is rootedin his idea of ‘racenicity’. It is the process through which the sociohistoricaland ideological construction of race, especially ‘whiteness,’ hashad a significant impact on defining national identity, ethnicity, and the perceptionof ethnic differences in the United States.

    ‘Multiculturalism is going in to examine the conditions that create inferiority,’Leistyna asserted.

    He argued that other studies of multiculturalism and causes of racism ‘neverlook at the point of reference that creates the margins between cultures: ‘#145;whiteness’#146;’.His focus is on those methods that are used to draw cultural margins arounddifferent races in America.

    The lecture also included a discussion of social class, media influence, gender,sexuality, age, and religion. Leistyna spoke about how whiteness is used toshape culture and minds.

    ‘How am I supposed to get my information from NBC or ABC, which are runby Time Warner and other billion dollar corporations that have vested interestsin the US defense department?’ he asked. His assertion is that ideas ofrace are very tightly associated with media presentations and the interestsof those in power.

    ‘I expose students to real issues, not multiculturalism, but ideas, values,and real situations,’ Leistyna explained.

    He pointed out the various methods by which American education, judicial system,and government agencies ‘work to take and categorize and shape culturesand groups of people.’

    The event highligted an introductory lecture by Dr. Leistyna on the conceptof ‘racenicity’ and its historical implications in America and anopen dialogue between Dr. Leistyna and participants. This included a roundtableresponse and discussion by several members of the Stony Brook graduate studentand faculty community, and the showing of ‘The Color of Fear,’ a documentaryon race relations.

    ‘The stories he told were especially eye opening and made me see a newside to racial problems,’ undergraduateTracy Joseph said.

    Others were more critical of the arguments posed by Leistyna. ‘More creditshould have been given to all the improvements we’#146;ve had in race relationsover the past few decades and the progress that we are slowly making in thiscountry,’ freshman Joici Job said.

    Dr. Pepi Leistyna graduated with a BA in Journalism and a BA in French fromthe University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and an MA and Doctorate in languagedevelopment, pedagogy, and multicultural theory from Harvard University. Heauthored the books ‘Presence of Mind: Education and the Politics of Deception’,and ‘Defining and Designing Multiculturalism: One School System’s Efforts’.He currently teaches courses in linguistics, methodology and cross culturalissues at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

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